Meet Evan Kang, a Pennsylvania-born connoisseur of the splashy, colorful media of the late 20th century. Although very illustrative, much of Evan’s 80’s-tinged work exists in 3-D space, in the form of models and dioramas. Read more about his interests, processes, and how he creates these playful worlds below, and check out his piece in our upcoming show, Parallel!
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? Where do you currently reside? What brought you into the art world?
I grew up in and am currently back in my hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It’s the state capital, but nobody's heard of it! That’s for good reason though, it’s a small and quiet town with not much to do, and I’m only here temporarily to be closer to family.
I was briefly in the illustration program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, with the prospect of refining a more conceptual approach to image making (working with abstractions, coding, etc). It was a bit of a struggle, because my process doesn’t really mesh with what was being taught. In art school I feel like you’re supposed to fit a certain mold, at least to an extent, and that just wasn’t happening for me. Even so, the overall experience has been invaluable, and I definitely came away from it a stronger illustrator.
Working with models and dioramas have been my primary focus lately. Miniatures have this sort of allure and charm that I find really attractive, so I’d like to push my work further in that territory.
What does your workspace look like? What creates the perfect creative space for you and your practice?
I’m currently sharing a studio space with my partner (who is also an illustrator), which is actually just a tiny extra bedroom. We have a pretty standard setup: a desktop computer, scanner, printer, and an extra desk for analog projects. In between the two desks is a little tube TV with an N64 and Sega Genesis, for those quick but frequent breaks… The responsible thing to do would be to move the games into another room, but that’s just not going to happen. There’s also some shelves and bookcases filled with toys, comics, and lots of reference material.
In terms of perfect spaces, I’m not too picky. All I need is to put on some background noise and to have my partner working in the same space (so it doesn’t get too lonely). Throw in a bit of ambient or natural lighting and I can get into the “zone” pretty quickly!
What is your process when approaching a piece? Do you have any favorite resources, materials, or research materials? Does your 3D work require different processes than your 2-Dimensional illustrations, or do you find that they actually come from similar places?
My process is a little backwards and probably counterproductive. I’ll typically lie down, shut my eyes, and try to visualize a scene/narrative in my head without actually putting things on paper. Pretty off the cuff stuff, and I don’t recommend working this way, it just happens to work for me. Now and then I’ll make some chicken scratch notes or incoherent scribbles, but I mostly wing it. It’s sort of like image making improv. This approach is the same whether I’m working in 2D or 3D, model-making just requires a little more trial and error because there’s some engineering involved.
For research and reference I’ll usually look up things through online sources or I’ll snap my own reference photos for a very specific gesture. Pretty straightforward. Occasionally, I might revisit a movie or video game to make mental mood boards.
The materials I like to use most are Evergreen sheet styrene, Super Sculpey [modeling clay], and Vallejo model color paints for all 3D pieces. Most of my 2D work is digital, so my ancient Wacom Bamboo tablet has been my go to.
What brought you to the idea of creating your characters and spaces in model form? Did the techniques required to create these models come fairly naturally to you?
Growing up with Nintendo Power magazines: the covers would sometimes feature models or clay dioramas that always made a big impression on me. I loved that these pieces were specifically crafted just for a one-off image! I’m also a big toy collector and drawn to all things miniature, so the desire to build in model form has been there for a long time.
As far as the techniques I use, I find that there’s a lot of overlap in skills between working in 2D and 3D. Model making is just drawing in a 3D space. You’re still thinking about planes, forms, and overall composition, but with an added technical aspect of physically puzzling pieces together. Kind of like a jigsaw.
Can you tell us about the piece you've created for Parallel? What kind of world did you want to create?
The piece [is] a physical diorama composed and then photographed as an image titled Garbage Day. It’s set in an off world trash heap. I wanted to create an environment that could take place at the end of an 80’s sci-fi/action movie. A lot of these films have their climaxes take place in these run down, industrial backdrops. To capture that mood but then combine it with a mundane and unflattering job performed by martian-like characters seemed really funny to me. Civilizations produce waste and it needs to be handled by someone, what would it look like in another dimension and what kind of pests do they have to deal with?
Was there anything new that you wanted to try with this piece?
I’m really aiming to shoot everything in-camera and have all the pieces be physical objects. Usually, I’ll edit in a photograph to use as a background or use digital tricks to finish an image, but I’d really like to make this piece as tactile as possible. It’s going to be a real challenge!
What are some of your favorite pieces of media? What inspires you? Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
Bad sci-fi movies like The Stuff, R.O.T.O.R., and Robot Jox in addition to the classics like RoboCop and Terminator have a large influence on the work I make. There’s sort of an endearing quality to bad movies, and the special effects are always fun to look at no matter how terrible they are. I grew up watching these films and I often subconsciously pull from these sources when I’m working.
Sean Chao is an artist that I really look up to. He creates incredible dioramas with clay, cut paper, and found objects that are just full of character and charm. His work is meticulous, look him up!
Do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy? Is there anything you've always wanted to get into but haven't yet?
Video games and collecting are two of my biggest hobbies. Nostalgia is something that influences my artistic practice and personal interests. Over the years I’ve collected some of the consoles I played when I was younger, as well as some of my favorite action figures (like G.I. Joe, as an example).
In my practice, I’d really like to explore the techniques and capabilities of 3D printing. I’ve done some freelance and personal projects using digital 3D modeling and would love the take that to the next level. There are a lot of interesting things being done with 3D printing, so I’d love to learn more about it for myself.
What would be an absolute dream project for you? This can be personal or commercial!
Eventually I’d like to launch my own toy line in the same vein of franchises like G.I. Joe, complete with TV show or comic book tie ins. Things like that were highly influential to me as a kid, so as an adult I’d like to bring my own stories to life in a similar way. I started a project called Rad Warriors when I was at PNCA that included my first experiments in designing and fabricating my own action figures. I created the figure itself as well as the packaging for the finished piece. It was immensely challenging working out the kinks but also hugely rewarding to hold the finished project.
Can you talk about any of your upcoming projects? Anything you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
I recently finished a cross country move and I’m still settling in, but I’m working with my friend and fellow artist Anthony Anello to crossover the characters from my Rad Warriors series into his comic series, Fallguy and Car-man.
Anything else you’d like to add? Where can people find your work?